After we crash-landed in the stormy Pacific ocean, I was cursing my luck that I was seated by an emergency exit. No one really expects to have to fulfill those duties that are the price of an inch more of leg room. We were lucky: our pilot was old but he was experienced. The flight attendant, an older blonde woman, assisted the emergency exit with me. All I did was pat people on the back, push them out into the water. I didn’t really feel like I was helping, and I really wasn’t sure that the guy from business class with the concussion was going to make it. But still, I reassured him and pushed him out into the water, just like everyone else. After a minute of this, the flight attendant had had enough. She leaped out with her yellow flotation device, surfing on a seat cushion. Good for her. I mean, you can’t really blame her for not wanting to go down with the plane. Then, I wondered to myself, “why should I go down with the plane?” I let a panicked Hispanic woman and her child push past me, then I elbowed the guy behind her, leaping out to freedom. God, I hope that wasn’t her husband.
Incidentally, “freedom” felt a lot like getting beaten against the side of a plane by choppy waves. I held my breath, like I always do in difficult situations—people say I’m very patient. When I inhaled again, I kept breathing in water mixed with salt and the leavings of whatever plant and animal life that lives around the Pacific. The trick, I found, was timing my breaths. It was a pain in the ass but much better than swallowing phytoplankton and fish urine. In my efforts to find a breath of air without breathing sea spray, too, I saw that Hispanic woman wrestling with her kid. She was having a much rougher time of it than I was. I held my breath again and paddled, grasping to my cushion like an ass-scented surfboard.
“Hand me the kid!” I yelled and spit and some water that snuck into my open mouth.
“Hand me the kid!” I yelled again, but the kid was swallowing too much seawater and the mother was just drowning her by pulling her close like that. I pulled the kid from her mother’s arms and placed her on my head, wearing her like a coonskin cap. The mother screamed when I took her, but she almost slipped off her cushion, so she just held tight with both hands and stared at me, looking wild like only a new mother can.
“It’s okay! I got big shoulders! I was a football player in high school.”
“How long ago was that?”
“It’s been a few years, I suppose.” Thirteen.
She eased a little, apparently deciding that I was doing a better job holding the squirming toddler. The little girl was wailing, but the constant drone could have easily been the rain or the waves. After a few hours and thousands of swells, the rain let up and the sea became less rocky. The woman told me her name was Carmen and her little girl was Sophia. The man I elbowed was not her husband, thank God, though I hadn’t seen him in the crowd of drifting bodies. She was actually unmarried, which I found strangely refreshing. Somehow, independent women make me feel that all is well in the world. But then I always think that they’re probably independent just based on their situation and really it was the man who left them nine months ago. They’re afraid and alone and spend most of their time dropping the kid off at their parents house so they can find the kid another daddy. But rather than dwell on that, I’d rather think of the independent woman and pump my fist like a moron, shouting “you go girl!” Carmen seemed nice, though, and her kid was a good hat—didn’t squirm much.
Pretty soon after the rain let up, the choppers managed to find us. We were let on in a basket, the injured going first. I was lucky enough to get picked up with Carmen, Concussion Guy, and Sophia, though probably because I was wearing the kid. I was happy to see that Concussion Guy had made it all right, even though I’m not sure how. Maybe he could write a book about it if he hadn’t had retroactive amnesia from the head trauma. Even more surprisingly, it turned out that Carmen lived close to me and I agreed to babysit for her. It’s really amazing what kind of connections you can make when you talk with your fellow passengers.